On 15 December 2016, Europe’s satellite navigation system Galileo started offering its initial services to public authorities, businesses and citizens.
Commission Vice-President Šefčovič recalled how geolocalisation is at the heart of the ongoing digital revolution with new services that transform our daily lives. The responsible for the Energy Union also stated that:
“Galileo will increase geo-location precision ten-fold and enable the next generation of location-based technologies; such as autonomous cars, connected devices, or smart city services. Today I call on European entrepreneurs, imagine what you can do with Galileo – don’t wait, innovate!”
Elżbieta Bieńkowska, Commissioner for Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs, explained that Galileo offering initial services is a major achievement for Europe and a first delivery of its recent Space Strategy and the result of a concerted effort to design and build the most accurate satellite navigation system in the world.
Galileo will initially start to deliver, in conjunction with GPS, support to emergency operations such as the Search and Rescue Service (SAR). People placing a distress call from a Galileo-enabled beacon can now be found and rescued more quickly, since the detection time will be reduced to only 10 minutes. This service should be later improved by notifying the sender of the emergency call that he/she has been located and help is underway.
The Galileo Open Service will also offer a free mass-market service for positioning, navigation and timing, through Galileo-enabled chipsets in smartphones or in car navigation systems. A number of such smartphones have been on the market since autumn 2016 and they can now use the signals to provide more accurate positions. By 2018, Galileo will also be found in every new model of vehicle sold in Europe, providing enhanced navigation services to a range of devices as well as enabling the eCall emergency response system.
Through its high precision clocks, the EU GPS is also supposed to enable more resilient time synchronisation of banking and financial transactions, telecommunications and energy distribution networks such as smart-grids.
Offering a particularly robust and fully encrypted service, Galileo will also support public authorities such as civil protection services, humanitarian aid services, customs officers and the police during national emergencies or crisis situations, such as terrorist attacks, to ensure continuity of services.
The Declaration of Galileo Initial Services means that its satellites and ground infrastructure are now operationally ready, although, not available all the time. That’s why during the initial phase, the first Galileo signals will be used in combination with other satellite navigation systems, like GPS.
In the coming years, new satellites will be launched to enlarge the Galileo constellation, which will gradually improve Galileo availability worldwide. The constellation is expected to be completed by 2020 when Galileo will reach full operational capacity.
At the moment, the Galileo constellation consists of 18 satellites, all of which are already in orbit. So far, the first Galileo smartphone by Spanish company BQ is already available on the market and other manufacturers are expected to follow suit. It will allow also application developers to test their ideas on the basis of real signal.
Galileo Initial Services are managed by the European GNSS Agency while the overall Galileo programme is run by the European Space Agency (ESA).